U.S. says NATO must launch offensive in Afghanistan

The United States and its allies must launch their own offensive this spring against the Taliban in Afghanistan, a senior U.S. defense official said Thursday, calling this a pivotal time in the nearly five-year-old war there.

Previewing the message Defense Secretary Robert Gates will deliver to NATO allies at a meeting in Seville, Spain, later Thursday and Friday, the official said now is the time finally to defeat the Taliban, who harbored planners of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that prompted U.S. global war on terror.

The end of winter in Afghanistan has traditionally brought an upsurge in attacks by Taliban militants, and U.S. commanders have already predicted that this spring there will be even more violent than last year when a record number of attacks included nearly 140 suicide bombings.

"We think the upcoming spring in Afghanistan is a pivotal moment in the conflict, and we're encouraging the allies to do as much as they can as soon as they can," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the planned discussions had not yet been presented to allies. "The offensive should be our offensive. That's the offensive we've been communicating to the allies."

Speaking en route to Seville, where Gates will make his first appearance at a NATO defense ministers' meeting, the official said there currently are no plans to further increase the U.S. troop commitment to Afghanistan, reports AP.

It was not clear, however, whether U.S. Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, who took over in December as NATO's supreme commander of operations, will seek some additional troops from the NATO allies.

Gates has said he believes there is a need for more military trainers to work with the Afghan Army.

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